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An apple a day...

An apple a day...

In line with behavioral theory, a researcher from Harvard University found that when individuals are given rewards for group cooperation, they respond more effectively than when they are punished for ineffective behaviors.  This study has many implications for any time that groups of humans interact for a common goal.  One of the implications I thought of was for America’s current insurance model.  Doctors get paid when people are sick.  What would happen if physicians were paid on the basis of their client’s wellness?  Although many Americans seem to have a laissez faire approach to wellness and that would certainly provide an extenuating circumstance for doctors paid under my purposed model, I think that the systemic change brought about by rewarding wellness instead of sickness would make the change worthwhile.  Preventative care would be at the forefront of our health model.  In addition to promising care in the case of emergency situations, hospitals would guarantee a yearly medical exam and biannual teeth cleanings.  How would our healthcare system change if we rewarded healthy behaviors as opposed to heaping additional punishment on unhealthy ones?

Harvard University (2009, September 4). Carrots Are Better Than Sticks For Building Human Cooperation, Study Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 7, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/09/090903163550.htm


A recent study examined the link between relationship satisfaction and smoking behaviors in couples.  It had 25 couples discuss a health related issue before and during smoking.  After they were done having their discussions, they watched a video of themselves interacting and used joysticks to track how they were feeling from very negative to very positive.  For couples who both smoked, they rated themselves as feeling more positive when they were both smoking, in spite of the fact that in all of the couples, at least one member was dealing with a serious smoking related health issue.  For couples in which only one member smoked, more negative feelings were reported during the time when one partner was smoking.  For dual smoking couples, the relationship satisfaction was increased when both partners were smoking, even though health was suffering.

Systemic reinforcement is one of the topics that really interests me as a mental health and family worker.  Consistently, I notice that if a family is unable or unwilling to change along with the child who gets placed in residential treatment, whatever changes we make as a treatment team with the child will quickly fall by the wayside when the child returns to their home environment.  As a practitioner, I think that it is vital to include family work in the overall treatment plan in order to create sustainable, systemic change.  Never is a mental health issue just an individual deficiency; it is the intersection of biology, family and cultural systems and behavioral conditioning.

Because of this philosophical orientation, I believe that looking at relationships as only being ways to perpetuate health issues is incomplete.  Relationships have the power, and in some cases, the only power, to create positive change in client welfare.  As practioners, we have the honor of presenting a new set of tools to a system.  We have the honor of helping the family create new options and new ways to perpetuate health and wellness.  Humility is our number one requirement, because if the solutions we present are ones that the family is unwilling to use, we present useless solutions.  We work in systems; we effect change in systems.

Wiley-Blackwell (2009, March 12). Close Relationships Can Perpetuate Individual Health Problems. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 15, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/03/090311111004.htm